Category Archives: Sex And Aging

Middle-aged sex without the mid-life crisis

More people are dating in middle age, but are they looking after their sexual health?

A regular, happy sex life can benefit our physical, mental, emotional and social wellbeing, improving health and prolonging life

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With more middle-aged people dating, or starting new relationships than ever before, are we taking enough care and consideration of our sexual health?

When we think of the faces behind recent statistics that are showing a rise in sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), we probably picture someone young. Those irresponsible students and twentysomethings playing around and not thinking through the consequences of their actions. But not so much. It is becoming clear that a large proportion of people contributing to those statistics are in fact, middle-aged. The Irish Family Planning Association (IFPA) annual report highlighted an increase in women aged over 50 coming to the clinics for sexual health services, including sexually transmitted infection screening and menopause check-ups.

The association said there was a perception that once women reached menopause, that they no long needed sexual health services. But that’s not the case. Minding our sexual health all through our life is as important as looking after our physical and mental health.

Unplanned pregnancies

For many women, perhaps coming out of a long marriage or relationship, they perhaps don’t seem to think they have to go back to the good old days of contraception and protection. Yet there are more unplanned pregnancies in the 40-plus age group than the younger ages.

“We definitely see an innocence and a lack of knowledge in middle-aged women seeking our services,” says Caitriona Henchion, medical director of the IFPA. “We see women not knowing if they need emergency contraception or whether they are experiencing menopausal symptoms. They’re not sure even in their late 40s and early 50s whether they still need contraception.”

The recommendation for contraception is very simple, yet perhaps not widely known. Until you have not experienced periods for two full years and you are under the age of 50, or one full year without periods after the age of 50, you need to still consider contraception. Amid constant talk of falling fertility as we age, many women are confused about their contraception needs.

This lack of knowledge about sexual health needs is apparent not just in the number of unplanned pregnancies in older women, but the rise of STDs in that age group as well. According to Henchion, advice from GPs can sometimes vary in quality and quantity, and so any sexually active woman over the age of 40 needs to seriously consider both her health risks and contraception needs.

Regular screening

The recommendation is that anyone who is sexually active needs regular screening. This seems to be something that many women feel unable to do. But emerging from a marriage or long-term relationship where the partner may have had other sexual partners means that STD screening is imperative.

“Discovering an unfaithful partner is a really common reason that we see older women coming to our clinics for screening,” says Henchion. “Our advice would be that the first thing to consider when starting with new partners is to ensure you have safer sex with condoms.”

But condoms don’t protect against everything, so the recommendation from the IFPA would be that if in sexual relationships you need to have testing twice a year.

“Obviously the people I see are a self-selecting group who are sexually active and attending our services, but certainly I would see a lot more people in the 50-plus [group] who are openly talking about their wants and needs and their problems with it, which is great,” explains Henchion. Who they do not see are the men and women not seeking sexual health services, or asking openly about their needs

One of the reasons there is a rise in general of STDs is because far more tests are being carried out, and therefore, more positive results. The tests are better now for chlamydia and gonorrhoea, so whereas a few years ago tests had less than 75 per cent detection rate, today it is 99 per cent. The tests themselves are simple. For men with no symptoms it is a straightforward urine sample and blood test, and for a woman, a vaginal swab and blood test in a nurse-led clinic.

Simple rule

According to Henchion, “the simple rule would be if you have a new partner for a few weeks, get tested.” But for many people, we perhaps don’t even know what to look for.

The top three STDs in terms of prevalence would be chlamydia, warts and herpes, and although many of the symptoms are obvious such as bleeding or physical warts, in more than 50 per cent of cases there are no symptoms. How many cases are picked up is through automatic testing when going for certain contraception options such as the coil.

Henchion believes we need better sex education and awareness for all generations. “I see 21-year-olds coming in with no understanding of how STDs such as herpes and warts can still be spread even though they are using condoms. And for sexually active people in middle age, there is often a significant lack of knowledge.”

For now, until sexual health education is more widely available, there are plenty of support services including GPs, well woman/well man sexual health clinics and the Guide Clinic at St James’s Hospital. The IFPA offers free advice, and there are plenty of online services such as HealthyIreland.ie.

“The key message is that early detection makes a huge difference in reducing risk of pelvic infection and obviously reducing the risk of passing it on,” warns Henchion. “Anyone, whatever age, who is sexually active needs to mind their sexual health.”

Middle-aged, single and on fire – or talking ourselves celibate?

For many women who have reached the supposed sexual prime of their 40s and 50s, their body image is shattered along with their energy. A recent survey suggested some women in this age bracket have the lowest confidence of any other age group regarding body image, and it’s affecting their sex lives. Yet another survey highlighted the fact that some women in middle age are having the best sex of their lives. If both surveys are right, is it all just down to attitude, and can changing your attitude change your sexual mojo?

In the two decades since the iconic shenanigans of the “man-eater” Samantha shocked a nation in Sex and the City (while women everywhere sniggered at the delight of it), middle-age sex is becoming mainstream. The BBC were at it with Happy Valley, and even Cold Feet caught up. First time round, Adam and co were in their youth, but now that they are heading towards 50, who is the one having all the sex? Karen. Middle-aged, single and on fire. Now that ordinary middle-aged women are being shown to be – gasp! – sexual, it begs the question: what does this mean for us? Is this liberating or intimidating?

It seems your answer to that question is the difference between having an active sex life in and beyond middle age and putting away the sexy knickers and taking out the comfy slippers.

Like tight skin and fashionable clothes, sex used to be the domain of the young. But now middle-aged women can have tight skin, fashionable clothes and sex as well. It all depends on your attitude. If you think your sex life is over at 50, it will be.

“Attitude is so important,” says sex therapist Kate McCabe. “I see women challenging traditional values and beliefs that you are past it sexually after a certain age. Women are having babies later, new relationships later, are mentally and physically healthier and anxious to be active and participate fully in every aspect of their lives.”

In fact, a regular, happy sex life can benefit our physical, mental, emotional and social wellbeing, improving health and prolonging life. This generation of middle-aged women have opportunities to redefine what stereotype they fit into, experiencing greater sexual, financial, social and intellectual freedom than at any previous time. Contraception has meant we are not overburdened with childbearing, and openness about sex means that issues which might have caused discomfort and difficulty can be addressed. The increase in divorce and separation now means that middle-aged dating is an acceptable social norm.

So why are all middle-aged women not taking advantage of the chance to flirt their 50s away and sex up their 60s

“Sex must be worth it,” explains McCabe. “I see women who come into therapy to see how they can best improve their sex life, even to the extent that they’ll bring in their partners and manage to engage in that conversation.

And it’s women of all ages. McCabe has clients in their 60s and 70s. “They are definitely getting out there, and they want really good, honest information on how to make the most of their sexual potential.”

But what about those women who are talking themselves celibate because of lack of confidence? Media plays a huge part in how women can often rate themselves. According to McCabe, feeling sensual has nothing to do with how you look.

“Finding intimacy is a brave step. Overcoming hang-ups to really explore our own sensuality is vital. And much of it relies on getting the right attitude.”

Complete Article HERE!

When You Are Old, Chinese, and Gay

Gay, lesbian, and bisexual retirees seek companionship and acceptance in old age, but some find it harder than others.

 

By Fan Yiying

Zhang Guowei, a 76-year-old bisexual veteran, is relishing his twilight years. “I couldn’t be happier with my life post-retirement,” says Zhang, who was a doctor in the army until 1994.

As a former military officer, Zhang’s monthly pension is 10,000 yuan ($1,440) — five times the average pension in Changde, the small city in central China’s Hunan province where he lives with his boyfriend. Zhang divorced his wife in 2003 and met the love of his life — Wu, who is 40 years younger — a year later on the internet. “I expect him to accompany me through the remainder of my life,” Zhang tells Sixth Tone after finishing his daily exercise routine.

Zhang says he is bisexual but prefers men. He gained support and understanding from his ex-wife and two daughters when he came out to them in 2003. When he passes on, his assets will be divided equally among his daughters and his boyfriend. “My kids have no problem sharing with Wu because they know he is the one taking care of me in my final years,” he says.

The May-December couple have been living together since 2005 in an apartment provided by the government for retired army cadres and their families. The 10-story building houses a dozen veterans in their 60s through 90s, some living alone and others with their spouses.

When Wu first moved in, Zhang told his neighbors that Wu was his gan erzi, or adopted son, whom he met online. (The Chinese concept of gan erzi allows for a sort of informal adoption of adults, with no legal or religious implications.) “I had this vague idea that they might be gay,” says 74-year-old Lu Shize, who lives downstairs. “But it’s none of my business to ask about his private life,” Lu adds.

Last year, following in other veterans’ footsteps, Zhang wrote a 218-page autobiography — including his experiences of recognizing his sexuality — and shared it with his fellow cadres. His neighbors were very understanding. “Everyone knows about us, and no one gossips or gives us a hard time,” Zhang says.

Lu, who had never before met any out gay or bisexual men, says he admires Zhang’s courage. “Being gay or not, it doesn’t change the way I see him,” Lu says. “We are in our 70s; what’s more important than being happy and healthy?”

China’s population is rapidly aging. The proportion of the population aged 60 or older was more than 16 percent at the end of 2015, according to the Ministry of Civil Affairs, and that number is only set to increase. The nation’s changing demography brings with it challenges for managing welfare and health care, especially as fewer seniors are able to count on their families for support.

Two older men hold a symbolic wedding ceremony in Beijing, Jan. 30, 2013.

Decades of family-planning restrictions mean that even seniors who have children often must become self-reliant, as children born during the one-child policy can’t afford to support two parents and four grandparents. As a result, for many elders, being childless is no longer a major concern or an unusual occurrence.

Wen Xiaojun, 56, is single and childless. Immediately after he retired in November from working as a civil servant, he rented an apartment in Sanya, on the southern island of Hainan, where he is spending six months avoiding the cold of his hometown in the eastern province of Zhejiang. “I still feel young and restless,” Wen tells Sixth Tone. “Being childless makes it easy for me to travel after retirement.”

Like other older people, LGBT seniors want to have rich, fulfilling, and independent lives. They hope that retirement will give them the opportunity to focus on what they truly love.

Wen enjoys his slow-paced life in Sanya. He goes to exhibitions, takes walks along the beach, plays volleyball with locals, and sometimes meets up with men he contacts through Blued — a popular gay social app, on which he hopes to find a long-term boyfriend.

But dating isn’t easy for older gay men. “Younger generations can build a relationship quickly by kissing or having sex soon after they meet offline,” Wen explains. “But we want something more spiritual and stable.”

Similarly, 62-year-old Ah Shan, as he’s called within the gay community, says that finding a partner is his biggest problem these days. His finances are secure, as he owns his apartment in Guangzhou — capital of southern China’s Guangdong province — and receives a monthly pension of about 5,000 yuan, but he has been single for four years and is ready for that to change. In the meantime, he is renting out one of his bedrooms to gay friends so he has some company at home.

Ah Shan poses for a picture in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, 2013.

Most gays, lesbians, and bisexuals of Ah Shan’s generation knew little about their sexual orientation until internet access became available at the turn of the millennium. Even when Ah Shan was working in the U.S. in the late 1980s, he refused to consider himself gay because the only information he’d heard about gay topics in China was AIDS-related or implied that homosexuality was shameful or immoral. “I think I was brainwashed,” Ah Shan laughs.

Over the last two years, Ah Shan has been working on a gay oral history project, recording the stories of older gay men in Guangzhou. He has talked to more than 60 gay men aged from 60 to 90, who have experienced some of China’s most critical historic moments, from the Cultural Revolution to the nation’s opening-up era. “If we don’t record them now, part of the important history of LGBT in China will be gone,” he says.

Many of the men are married and choose not to come out to their families. “They go to this particular park to chat with other gay men in the daytime to release their emotions, but when the sun goes down, they have to return home to bear their family responsibilities,” Ah Shan says with a sigh.

Ah Shan’s own parents passed away before he was brave enough to tell them the truth. His mother died in 2000, a year before homosexuality was declassified as a mental illness in China.

Compared with gay and bisexual men, older women find it even more difficult to disclose or discuss their sexual orientation. Since 2010, 45-year-old Yu Shi from Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province, has been working on an oral history project for older same-sex-attracted women across China, but she says the process of locating participants and persuading them to share their stories is tough.

“Chinese women are in a weak position in the family, which doesn’t allow them to speak out for themselves,” Yu says, adding that of the 30 or so lesbians who have taken part in the project over the last six years, only one has come out to her family. Many won’t divorce their husbands even if they have female partners. “Chinese people are very concerned with saving face, and they think it’s a loss of face to get a divorce if you’re already a grandparent,” she says.

Yu and her 40-year-old girlfriend have lived together for over a decade, but despite their enduring, loving relationship, they can’t enjoy the security of a formal union, as same-sex marriage is not yet legal in China. Some issues can be resolved by making a will, but others — like legal or medical power of attorney — remain a problem.

According to Yu, some LGBT seniors who are single and childless have considered building their own retirement estate where they can live together and take care of one another. Although they aren’t opposed to regular nursing homes, Yu says “they prefer to live in a place where they can open their hearts and share their experiences with others in the same circumstances.”

A lesbian couple kiss each other during an event in Shanghai, Dec. 22, 2013.

As more and more seniors live separately from their children, retirement facilities in China have struggled to meet growing demand. The government encourages investment in privately owned nursing homes, but so far none have been established exclusively for members of sexual minority groups.

Little public attention is given to the needs of older LGBT people, but to Wang Anke, a 50-year-old bisexual woman from Beijing, these individuals don’t do enough to stand up for themselves, either. “We are almost invisible,” she says.

Wang married her husband in 1990 and plans to spend the rest of her life with him. Though Wang considers herself happy and fortunate, she says that most older lesbian and bisexual women she knows are pessimistic about their senior years. “They’re lonely and lack emotional care,” Wang says, adding that many would rather live alone than move into a nursing home where they fear they can’t be themselves. “Loneliness will go to the grave with them.”

But while some LGBT seniors advocate dedicated nursing homes, Ah Shan opposes the idea of separate services. “In the long run, LGBT people shouldn’t lock ourselves in a so-called safe place,” he says. “What we really need is for the overall environment to allow us to live comfortably in the community.”

Complete Article HERE!

Research finds that older people’s sexual problems are being dismissed

Older people’s sexual activity problems and desires are being dismissed by health practitioners due to their age, a new study has suggested.

seniors

Research by The University of Manchester’s MICRA (Manchester Institute for Collaborative Research on Ageing) and Manchester Metropolitan University highlighted the obstacles some older couples face in maintaining fulfilling sexual lives, and how they adapt to these barriers.

The study analysed written comments from over a thousand adults aged 50 to 90 who responded to the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing Sexual Health and Relationships questionnaire. Respondents of both sexes emphasised their anxiety at not being taken seriously by health practitioners as they sought to overcome issues affecting their , such as a drop in sexual desire or physical difficulties. One man in his eighties reported being refused Viagra for erectile dysfunction on the grounds of cost.

Participants in the study, published in Ageing and Society, cited other elements influencing sexual activity, including health conditions and physical impairment, the evolving status of sex in relationships and mental wellbeing. It was also found that men were more likely to talk about the impact of on sexual activities, but women were more likely to talk about health-related sexual difficulties in the context of a relationship.

The study recommends that health care practice should positively engage with issues of sexual function and sexual activity to improve the health and wellbeing of , particularly in the context of long-term health problems.

“This research further improves our understanding of love and intimacy in later life”, said study co-author David Lee, Research Fellow from The University of Manchester. “It builds upon empirical findings published in our earlier paper (Sexual health and wellbeing among older men and women in England; Archives of Sexual Behaviour) which described a detailed picture of the sex lives of older men and women. However, this new research uses narrative data to better understand how changing age, health and relationships interrelate to impact sexual health and satisfaction.”

“Appreciating individual and personal perspectives around sexuality and sexual is of paramount importance if we are to improve services for older people.”

Complete Article HERE!

Low sexual desire, related distress not uncommon in older women

By Kathryn Doyle

senior intimacy

Just because social attitudes toward sex at older ages are more positive than in the past doesn’t mean all older women have positive feelings about sex, according to a new Australian study.

Researchers found that nearly 90 percent of women over 70 in the study had low sexual desire and a much smaller proportion were distressed about it. The combination of low desire and related distress is known as hypoactive sexual desire dysfunction (HSDD) and nearly 14 percent of women had it.

Older people are increasingly remaining sexually active and sexual wellbeing is important to them, said senior author Susan R. Davis of Monash University in Melbourne.

“This is probably because people for this age are healthier now than people of this age in past decades,” Davis told Reuters Health by email.

A random national sample of women ages 65 to 79 was contacted by phone and invited to take part in a women’s health study. Those who agreed received questionnaires asking about demographic data, partner status and health history, including menopausal symptoms, vaginal dryness, pelvic floor dysfunction, depression symptoms, sexual activity and sexual distress.

Of the 1,548 women who completed and returned the questionnaires, about half were married or partnered, 43 percent had pelvic surgery and 26 percent had cancer of some kind. About a third had menopausal symptoms and one in five had vaginal dryness during intercourse.

In the entire sample, 88 percent reported having low sexual desire, 15.5 percent had sex-related personal distress, and women with both, who qualified for HSDD, made up 13.6 percent of the group, as reported in Menopause.

That’s lower than has been reported for this age group in the past, and similar to how many women report HSDD at midlife, Davis noted.

“Considering how conservative women of this age are, we were surprised that over 85 percent of the women completed all the questions on desire and sexual distress so we could actually assess this on most of the study participants,” Davis said.

Vaginal dryness, pelvic floor dysfunction, moderate to severe depressive symptoms and having a partner were all associated with a higher likelihood of HSDD. Sexually active women, partnered or not, more often had HSDD than others.

“We would never label women with low/diminished sex drive as having HSDD,” Davis said. “In our study 88 percent had low desire and only 13.6 percent had HSDD, this is because low desire is not an issue if you are not bothered by it.”

Vaginal dryness, associated with HSDD in this study, can easily treated by low dose vaginal estrogen which is effective and safe, she said.

HSDD was also associated with urinary incontinence, depressive symptoms and hot flashes and sweats, she said.

“Even talking about the problem with a health care professional who is interested and sympathetic is a good start,” Davis said. “Conversely health care professionals need to realize that many older women remain sexually active and do care about this issue.”

Complete Article HERE!

New resource to inform staff and aged care residents’ families on sexuality

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Sex remains important for many people living in aged care, but a challenge for staff and residents’ family members, writes Michael Bauer, who introduces a new guide to assist.

Sexuality is linked to wellbeing and quality of life and the need for affection, looking and feeling attractive, as well as intimacy, and sex can remain important for many people living in aged care facilities.

Growing old is not a limitation on the expression of sexuality or sexual desire and the above needs do not necessarily change because someone has dementia.

Residents’ sexuality can nevertheless often be a challenge for aged care facilities and staff as well as residents’ family members who may find it an awkward and difficult topic to openly discuss.

It can come as a surprise to some family and staff members alike, to learn that a resident still has sexual needs and this can evoke a range of responses from acceptance through to disbelief, or even disgust.

Children can find it difficult to understand and accept that their parent living in an aged care facility still has sexual desires and furthermore wants to fulfil them, particularly if they have dementia.

It can be equally upsetting for families and partners to learn that their loved one wants to spend time with someone else living in the facility. Families may struggle to understand and make sense of what is happening and why, particularly if the person is unable to verbally express their needs.

Sometimes behaviour may seem very out of character for the person. There may be a changed interest in sex, or a change in sexual inhibitions, all of which can cause concern or embarrassment for the family or partner.

To help the families of people living in residential aged care be more informed about sexuality, researchers from the Australian Centre for Evidence Based Aged Care at La Trobe University have developed the resource Sexuality and people in residential aged care facilities: A guide for partners and families.

The guide has undergone extensive consumer consultation and aims to assist family members and partners of people living in aged care facilities understand about sexuality, including for people living with dementia.

Issues covered include:

  • the importance of sexuality in old age
  • sexuality and living in an aged care facility
  • sexuality and dementia
  • sexual behaviours and their impact
  • how a facility can be supportive of the expression of sexuality

The guide can also be a useful resource for facility staff who need information on this topic. Initially developed in English this resource is soon to be translated into other languages.

A copy will soon be sent to all Australian residential care facilities, and it can be downloaded for free from the DementiaKT hub or here.

Funding for the project was obtained from the Dementia Collaborative Research Centres (DCRC) 3 – Carers and Consumers as part of the Australian Government’s Dementia Initiative.

Complete Article HERE!